Politics EXPLAINER: How a new GOP law in Texas makes voting harder
Texas Legislature passes sweeping election bill
The legislation's passage ended a months-long standoff with Democrats, who stalled the bill by leaving the state.The Texas House passed the bill, SB 1, 80-41 last week and on Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed it 18-13. The votes were nearly along party lines. Abbott has said that he looks forward to signing the bill.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The sweeping changes to Texas' election code thatsigned into law Tuesday make it harder — sometimes even legally riskier — to cast a ballot in the state, which already has some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws.
Democrats gridlocked the state Capitol for 38 consecutive days after more than 50 fled to Washington, D.C., in July to deny Republicans a quorum, which is required to conduct the state's business. Enough of them returned about three weeks ago to end the impasse, and GOP leaders made quick work of pushing the bill through both chambers. Abbott immediately said he would sign it,.
Texas Senate Rejects Provision Protecting Felons Who Try to Vote From Being Arrested
Republican state Representative Briscoe Cain said the amendment was to make sure that "people that do innocent things" are not arrested again for their past actions. Following the removal of the bipartisan provision, Republican lawmakers prepared to send the finalized rewrite of the state's election laws to Governor Greg Abbott. The House approved the bill itself with a 80-41 vote on Tuesday.
Texas is among at least 18 states, including Florida, Georgia and Arizona, that have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The national GOP campaign to tighten voting laws has been partly driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.
Here's a closer look at what's in the new Texas law:
Texas GOP advances voting bill after Democrats’ holdout ends
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republicans advanced new voting restrictions Thursday night after months of protests by Democrats, who after returning from a 38-day walkout are now all but out of ways to stop a bill that includes a ban on drive-thru voting and empowering poll watchers. The nearly 50-page bill passed the Texas House on a 79-37 mostly party-line vote, moving fast a week after Democrats ended their holdout. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says he will sign the measure that is on track to reach his desk by early September, if not sooner. In what is now the GOP’s third try at passing the bill since May, the atmosphere was charged.
EMPOWERING POLL WATCHERS
Some of the most significant changes in Texas law concerns partisan poll watchers, the volunteers deployed by both major parties to observe voting and counting. As recently as 1962, Republican poll watchers in some parts of Texas challenged Black and Latino voters to read and explain the U.S. Constitution before casting ballots as part of a campaign dubbed “Operation Eagle Eye.” In 2020, then-President Donald Trumpand make false claims of fraud.
The final language of the omnibus law gives partisan poll watchers new access, protections and power. The law makes it a Class A misdemeanor — comparable to burglary of a vehicle — for an election official to reject an appointed poll watcher. Under the measure, anyone who knowingly obstructs a poll watcher's view also commits a legal offense. The law states the watchers may have “free movement” around the voting facilities and may "sit or stand near enough to hear or see the activity.” Texas law still prohibits poll watchers from watching someone actually cast a ballot. However, they may observe the transfer of voting data.
U.S. voting rights events reflect multiracial reform agenda
A decades-old fight to expand and protect voting rights will intensify this weekend, when multiracial coalitions of civil, human and labor rights leaders hold rallies in Washington and across the nation to urge passage of federal voter protections eroded since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It's a united front that rights advocates say hasn’t been seen in two generations, back when the landmark federal legislation removed barriers keeping voters of color from easily accessing the ballot box.
The law empowers poll watchers to sue and seek court orders against election officials who get in their way. The new law also requires poll watchers to swear an oath that they will not harass voters and complete a training prior to participating for which they must show a certificate upon arrival.
Poll watchers may only be removed for violating election law if the violation is witnessed by the election clerk or judge and for violations of the penal code.
Republicans argue these changes are needed because voters will only trust elections if their representatives have free access to just about every aspect of voting and counting. But Democrats and civil rights organizations worry about the history of Texas conservatives using poll watchers to intimidate racial and ethnic minority voters.
'We can't just rally every four years:' Young people of color stand up to voter suppression in Florida and Texas
Florida and Texas lawmakers introduced voting rights legislation organizers say are designed to disenfranchise young voters of color."I grew up knowing that I was undocumented and that I couldn't vote," Ferla told Insider. "I grew up knowing that ICE could come to my family's door and shatter all of our dreams within minutes.
LIMITING OPPORTUNITIES TO VOTE
The law written by Republicans explicitly rolls back ways Democratic counties have made it easier for people to vote, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. It bans drop boxes for mail ballots — a practice that has been used for years in other states with no major problems — and prohibits the mailing of absentee voting applications and ballots to all eligible voters. The law also makes it a felony for any election official who sends out unsolicited applications or ballots to vote-by-mail.
The GOP law also bans drive-thru voting for most voters and controls the times at which county governments can keep polling places open. That will put a stop to 24-hour voting locations. Houston's Harris County — one of the nation's largest, most racially diverse areas — says 140,000 voters utilized its drive-thru and 24-hour locations in November.
What Texas' New Voting Law Means
Drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling are outlawed under the law as Republican lawmakers argued they were necessary only during the COVID-19 pandemic.State Democrats protested the bill for months, saying it discriminates against minority groups, making it harder for them to cast a vote. The bill limits how and when people can vote, removing options for drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling locations.
Republicans argue that these procedures were used during the ongoing but once-in-a-century pandemic and shouldn’t be regular features of voting in the state. Democrats and voting rights groups say those measures simply make it easier for people to cast ballots and especially helped working class, young and ill voters access the polls.
Two provisions of the law make voting more convenient, by extending early voting hours and mandating that workplaces allow employees to make a trip to the polls during either early voting or on Election Day.
NEW HURDLES TO MAIL VOTING
Texas is already one of the hardest states in the nation in which to vote by mail. The process is limited to those 65 and older, voters who will be out of state during the election or people with disabilities. But after Trump objected to mail voting during his failed reelection bid, Republicans in Texas and elsewhereand have been eager to tighten regulations on it.
The Texas law adds more steps and paperwork for voters, including requirements to include their driver's license number, election identification certificate or the final four digits of their Social Security number and an “ink-on-paper” signature that can verifiably be matched with any previously filed signature in corresponding Texas Department of Public Safety records.
Texas governor signs GOP-backed voting legislation into law
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a Republican-backed voting bill into law Tuesday, marking a huge victory for conservative backers who say the legislation will help tighten and secure future elections. © Provided by Washington Examiner The law effectively rolls back pandemic-era expansions on voting capabilities such as 24-hour and drive-thru voting. It also adds identity verification steps requiring voters to provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, among other measures. "It does make it easier and than ever before for anybody to go cast a ballot.
Opponents of the provision — somewhat similar to one that passed in Georgia — say it would create another opportunity for voters to make minor mistakes that could result in ballots being thrown out.
The new law partially address that concern. Voters who submit ballots before Election Day will be notified of problems and allowed to go to an elections office to fix some issues that can disqualify the vote, such as a mismatched signature, while some qualifying voters may be able to correct mistakes online.
The Texas law,, creates or expands several criminal violations involving elections, some of which are broadly defined and could ensnare voters or those who help them. Republicans contend they're necessary to prevent fraud or improper influence on voters. Democrats note, accurately, that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. The state's Republican attorney general dedicated millions of dollars to voter fraud investigations since last year but has only turned up a handful of cases in a state where more than 11 million people voted in November.
The law expands an existing mandate that people who help voters with ballots provide information on the envelope attesting to their role. Under the law, anyone who helps a voter complete a ballot must also submit their name, address, relationship and details of whether they were paid by a campaign or political committee and take an oath, under penalty of perjury. Voters who can’t complete a ballot on their own or read the ballot are allowed to vote with assistance.
In a win for disability advocates who said the clause required disclosure of personal or medical information, the law's final language amended the oath to not obligate voting assistants to pledge they certified the voter was eligible due to a disability or inability to read the ballot.
The law also requires local election officials to refer all cases of improperly cast ballots to the state attorney general. Voting rights groups worry this could be abused to prosecute common errors, such as a voter failing to update registration when moving counties. Republicans argue this is a common-sense way to prevent fraud.
Language that would have shielded people with felony convictions from prosecution if they cast a ballot without knowing they were ineligible to vote was cut out of the bill at the last minute. It was one the few areas of bipartisan agreement and overwhelmingly approved in the House following backlash over the arrests of two Texas voters, both of whom are Black, which intensified criticism amid a broader fight over voting restrictions that opponents say disproportionately impact people of color. GOP lawmakers in the Senate rejected the change.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin contributed to this report.
Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Democrats have finally identified the greatest threat to voting rights — the Supreme Court .
Speaker Pelosi plans to vote on a bill that would undo many of the Court’s attacks on democracy as soon as next week.On Tuesday, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the plan, known as the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021,” with a strong endorsement from House leadership. The bill is expected to receive a House floor vote as soon as next week — but will likely die in the Senate, like other Democratic priorities sabotaged by a handful of Democratic senators who remain loyal to the filibuster.